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The 18 Best Movie Moments from 2018

Written by on December 29, 2018 

8. “I’m too tired to play, darling.” Frida’s make-up session in Summer 1993


Having lost both parents to an unspeakable tragedy, six-year-old Frida (astonishing newcomer Laia Artigas) moves to the Catalan countryside to live with her uncle, aunt, and little cousin. In a film stashed with scenes of devastating grief, the moment she plays the adult, puts make up on and instructs her younger cousin to call her “mum” only to ask her not to be bothered in a standard parent lingo (“I’m too tired to play, darling”) was the most heart-wrenching one of all.

7. Lane and Brady’s visit in The Rider


Is Chloé Zhao’s The Rider a work of fiction, a documentary, or both? Graced with Joshua James Richards’ stunning cinematography–here painting Turner-like sunsets and stormy skies that turn the South Dakotan prairies into a belittling immensity–and with the performances of an all non-professional cast, The Rider left me concurrently shattered and uplifted, but nothing brought me to tears quite like the moment real-life rodeo star Brady Jandreau pays a visit to his best friend and mentor, paralyzed former bull rider Lane Scott, to catch up over clips of his rodeo antics.

6. To the lighthouse in Annihilation


It’s been almost a year since I first saw Alex Garland’s Annihilation on a big screen, and sometimes I wish I could drift back in time to experience again what it was like to watch Natalie Portman’s descend into the lighthouse and confront the alien–Moderat’s entrancing “The Mark” swelling the cave into a hypnotic and otherworldly non-place. I tend to steer clear from the stream-at-home vs watch-it-at-the-cinema debate, but this film–and this scene in particular–demand an experience as all-encompassing as possible.

5. “Thank you.” The beach scene in Shoplifters


The last thing Kirin Kiki says in Kore-eda’s compassionate Shoplifters is the greater-than-life “thank you” she whispers as she looks at her extended family swimming in the sea. In a film dancing between aching moments of loneliness and others bursting with unbridled joy and affection, I chose this one because of its metafictional subtext. I caught up with this year’s Palme d’Or winner in early September; a few days later, Kiki passed away to cancer, aged 75. Her thank you is a pitch-perfect farewell.

4. I’ve never been to me” in You Were Never Really Here


Joaquin Phoenix’s PTSD-suffering gun for hire kills a man in his mother’s apartment, but lies down and holds the man’s hand as he dies, the two of them singing along to “I’ve never been to me,” a faint sizzle from the kitchen radio. I chose this scene because I seldom remember one at once so gory and compassionate, and also because it captures the near effortless ability with which Lynne Ramsay’s terrific You Were Never Really Here simultaneously shock into fear and awe.

3. Haemi’s dance in Burning


Nothing came quite close to perfection this year as the moment Jeon Jong-seo takes her shirt off and dances topless in Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, her silhouette a twirling dark shadow against a cloudless sunset sky. It’s the proverbial scene worth the whole ticket, on par with another recent tragic dance–Audrey Horne’s in Twin Peaks: The Return–and also corroborates why Burning is the most successful a film has ever come to adapt a Haruki Murakami work of fiction. Nowhere does the lingering surrealism that makes Lee Chang-dong’s film–and Murakami’s writing–so haunting billow to life more explicitly than it does here. This is a scene for the ages.

2. The finale embrace in Roma


Coming out emotionally wrecked from its Venice premiere, my favorite scene from Alfonso Cuarón’s majestic Roma was the heartbreaking delivery scene featuring Yalitza Aparicio’s in-house maid Cleo. A few viewings later, I have switched to the near-death-experience ending at the beach. Not just because of the terrific tracking shot and its sheer cinematic brilliance, but because of that finale embrace Cleo gets enveloped in, a family tree of hands and bodies joint together in an otherworldly moment of hope.

1. The marriage in Cold War


Zula and Wiktor’s pan-European exodus ends in a derelict church. For the previous 80 minutes, Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War has trailed behind them as they careened through a few years and a few borders in two-blocks 1950s Europe, a journey at once deeply rooted in its historical and geographical specifics, and universal and timeless in its tragic scope. Watching Joanna Kulig’s Zula and Tomasz Kot’s Wiktor exchange their wedding vows in a deserted church, I was jolted back to the harrowing ending of Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love, Tony Leung whispering a secret into a cavity in an ancient Angkor Wat temple, and this final stanza from Henrik Nordbrandt’s Our Love is Like Byzanthium:

“When I turn towards you
in bed, I have a feeling
of stepping into a church
that was burned down long ago
and where only the darkness in the eyes of the icons
has remained
filled with the flames
which annihilated them.”

I always feel indebted toward any movie that leaves me emotionally wrecked; the debt I owe Pawlikowski, and this scene in particular, is immense.

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